Thursday, July 21, 2011

Sailing Cartagena - San Blas - Panama

San Blas.
In Cartagena I was searching for a boat that would go to Panama and that would need a qualified sailor. There are many sailing boats traveling between Colombia and Panama since the land border goes through a jungle controlled by drug cartels and is almost impossible to cross. All flights are very expensive.
 Many backpackers that travels through America, goes on the sailing boat.

Our crew.
After only two days of searching for the boat I found Julece. Who needed one person what would help him to navigate the boat to Panama. I became a first mate on a small sailing yacht Olivine. Julece was sailing on this route for the last four years. Initially he worked on someone else boat but after few years he managed to save sufficient money to buy his own sailing boat Olivine. Additionally, there were four other person on the boat.
The most time I spent talking with Maï "Sol" who for the last years worked as graphic designer in Spain and now she was realizing her big dream of traveling through America. There were also two french guys that travel together through whole America: Baptiste and Armand and the Argentinian guy traveling solo: Jose.

We denatured from Cartagena in the early afternoon on 25th June, Sunday. We agreed with Julece to take four hours shifts. Initially we had to sail continuously for 48h.

In the past, Cartagena was a target for a pirates boat. In order to protect the city, the underwater wall was built at the sea entrance. There is only a small gate left. This path is used by sailing boats. Other big containers ships need to use other entrance to Cartagena few kilometers apart. We started with nice NW 3-4 wind in a Beaufort scale and we sailed west. It was great to feel the sea breeze on the face being on the sea on a sailing vessel. The sea cradle us a bit but not too much. For all other four guys it was a first sea experience and two of them got sea sick for the first hours of sailing.

Sailing to San Blas.
After getting on a proper course, I took the first navigation shift from 20.00 to 24.00. For two hours the sea and the sky around us were relatively calm. For all the time we could hear very strong lighting. But we could not see any light of lightening. It was a bit strange for me since usually it was opposite. We crossed a sea highway (where many cargo ship cross), so there were quite o few navigation lights of other boats that one had to take care, but finally non of the boat was going on the colliding course. Around 22.00 the storm arrived closer and it started to rain a bit. I dressed my rain jacket and walked up Julece. I though it was a time to get rid of the main sail and stay only on the engine. He agreed with me. While removing the main sail, heavy rain hit us. Julece went to sleep again inside and I stayed alone in the rain. The visibility was very bad, so I had to take double precautions. It rained heavily and till the midnight I got completely wet, surprisingly cold and quite tired. I walked up Julece and with great pleasure took his sleeping place inside the boat, where I could concentrate fully on enjoyment of cradling the boat. I had less then four hours of sleep, so I slept very tightly and fast. At four Julece woke me up. He was also wet and quite cold. But luckily for me it stopped to rain. Half a wake I went to the deck. I stretched all my body and in few minutes I was ready to take over navigation from Julece. We put on again the main sail, but since the wind was a bit weak, we did not turn of the engine. Shortly after it was getting brighter and brighter but I had to watch the sun rise with my imaginations eyes since it was covered with the clouds.

I had an idea to change the sailing plans. I even managed to convince part of the crew to go to Cuba instead of San Blas. We discussed it among inner cycles of the crew if we should try to convince captain to our idea, or ask sharks for a good arguments... Unfortunately, we dropped this idea...

There was no other boat around the horizon. I contemplated the clouds, the sea and the main sail. Around seven the boat started to wake up. Mai "Sol" prepared a breakfast and I waited till 8 for a change. I guess in the night I slept around three hours, so I was very happy when I could sleep a bit more. I had a great nap till midday. I guess then Julece prepared some food and Baptiste took over navigation. The moment that he started to steer there was sufficient wind that we could have turn off the engine and finally sail only with the power of nature. It was a beautiful moment. No loud engine working, sun showed up, white sails above us, blue water around us and nothing else. No other boat on the horizon as we would be the only living being on the whole universe. I started my navigation shift at 22.00. Since I was alone on the deck I contemplate a bit the surrounding in the silence. Afterwards instead of the music I started to listen to my Spanish lessons. During the day I also gathered some Spanish sailing words from Julece. All our boat was Spanish-French speaking. There were not too many English words on the deck. I seriously like practising my Spanish with French people.

San Blas.
My shift finished at 2 o'clock in the night and I went for almost 4 hours nap. In the night the wind died so again we had to turn on engine. Unfortunately most of the time of the next day we needed to use engine. Our two seasick guys were coming to live and we hoped to reach San Blas archipelago before sun set. It was difficult do describe the beauty of those tiny islands. Yellow sand of the beaches and on the whole island nothing else than coco palms moreover the islands were surrounded by the water that was so dramatically blue that is unbelievable.

Baptiste in pontoon.
In my hammock.
Indeed between four and five we anchored. After cleaning all the staff on the deck, it got dark. I learnt how to operate pontoon. It was not recommended to swim in those waters in night since it was a time when sharks were waking up, but during the day there was no danger in those waters. We went to see one of the island. The crew from the other backpackers boat prepared an bonfire on the beach. We joined it for a while. I considered to sleep on this islands but finally I decided to try something different. I wanted to sleep in my hammock and I looked for a place to put it up. Finally I put it over the boom. In order to adjust a proper height of my hammock I used topping lift and halyard. I was surprised that I have never seen hammock attached like this on any boat. The most challenging was just to get in and get out to the hammock. I slept very tight until in the night sheet got loosen. I started to dance a lot in my hammock. I had to get down. I had to attache a contra sheet. In the morning it started to drip a bit so I moved inside the boat.

"Sol" on the island.
Local person offering us lobsters.
Our lobster.
The next day we change the place and after two hours of sailing we stopped next to equally or even more beautiful place. I prepared delicious egg-tortilla-meat wraps for every one. This time those islands were inhabited by locals. Shortly after arriving, one of them showed up offering us some of the sea fruits. Juloce got it and prepared it for our dinner. Completely fresh lobster. Prepared with a garlic.... Hmmm heaven in the mouth. Just after the dinner we went to the island were we played a very interesting volleyball game: France+Argentina against Poland+ Kuna Yala (endogenous inhabitants in San Blas).

Robinson and his home.
Snorkeling team 1.
Snorkeling team 2.
The whole next day was devoted to snorkeling. With the pontoon we went to a small islands that was surrounded with the coral reef. Mai "Sol" nick named me Robinson and she named that this island could have been my home. We had some snorkeling equipment and one harpoon. The life below the surface was amazing. It was incredible how colorful is underwater life in Caribbeans. Incredible reef and incredible inhabitants of the reef. We had a harpoon and everyone of us tried to catch a fish. But it was very difficult. I decided that I would try until... I will succeed. Luckily others were not so much focused on this, so I had lot of time to practise. Initially, one had to find big enough fish, then one needed to get relatively close to it and then one needed to release the harpoon aiming in eye or in the neck. First, I had a problem to find big enough and eatable (not colorful) fish. I searched for a proper spots quite a bit. I located few favourite under water fishes places. The next challenge was to get closed enough to a fish... And usually those fishes do not like when one is swimming closed to them. Especially the ones that are big, they survived so long in the water because they knew when to swim a way from the predator. Few times I though I am closed enough to the fish. Then I always release my harpoon.... And either I missed completely the fish, or the fish in this moment changed the location or my harpoon slided over the slippery fish skin. In Spanish the fish that swims freely in the water is pez, when this fish is cough it changed the name to pescado. I also tried to talk to the fishes and explain that it is true the life of pescado is short but it has a great flavour. I promised them that I would show them garlic and onion flavour...

Sun set over San Blas.
Finally, after quite a few hours underwater I came on our sailing boat a bot defeated. In the meantime Jules prepared dinner which consisted of seashell food cooked with mango. Incredible combination. Then Baptiste took a harpoon and went diving. He came back in one hour with.... Three fishes!!! Well One of them was not eatable, the second one was too small to eat, but the third one very delicious. I fried it for the supper and decided to wake up very early in the morning the next day to try to catch a fish.

Real marinero with his pescado.
I wake up just after sun rise and I jumped to the water with even stronger determination than the last day. If I wanted to be a real marinero I need to know how to catch fish with the harpoon. I swam close to the green bottom and suddenly I noticed this fish busy with eating. I came closer, she looked in my eye, I looked in her eye... I came closer...I blinked to her that the pescado life is cool. I came a bit closer... She blinked to me back that she is not so sure about this. I came a bit closer.... I blinked to her that I will try to convince her.... And PUFF I released the harpoon not giving their a chance to blink back anything back.....YEAYEA I shouted under water!!! I got a fish, I am a real marinero!!!

"Sol" set.
I came back on board just in time we were departing. This was our last day and we had one hour more sailing before getting the entrance stamp to Panama. During this time I prepared scramble eggs for the breakfast. Initially after arriving we were supposed to have enough time for cleaning my pescado and frying it, but suddenly there was not enough time for it. Since Mai "Sol" was staying on the boat one day longer, she promised to take care about my pescado.

With the guys we needed to take a fast boat for an hour and then we drove to Panama City.

Caribbean sea is incredible beautiful I am sure I will come back there one day. There are so many small islands to explore, there are also two big islands that are high on my dream destination list: Cuba and Jamaica. So take care Caribbeans and see you soon.

Here is a story of this same trip by "Sol".


  1. Oh yeaaaah Miko..
    Very good post !!
    Thanks for all the moment that we have spend together...thanks for give me so many fun and laugh. This trip in Olivine has been incredible.
    And i can confirm, Miko is a real marino: First because he loves the sea, second because he can manage a sailboat alone, on the night with rain and wind, third because he can fish little pescado closing the eyes, and last because his second name is robinson.
    Have fun Miko, take care, and hope to see you SOON on my trip. Muchos besos
    May "Sol"

  2. Hi "Sol"
    Thank you very much for the shared time!!! I am really glad that I met you!
    Warm hugs.

  3. hi!!
    very nice and very funny travel with you!
    thank for teaching me to navigate a sailboat!!
    where are you now?? i'm sure all is well for you!
    hasta luego!

  4. Hi Baptiste,
    It was great to travel with you as well. Right now I am in Guatemala.
    I always try to update my Route site according to my current location.
    Cheers. Mikolaj

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